VIDEO: Celebrated artist Carlos Frésquez leaves the classroom and a legacy
His students’ murals appear on buildings all over the city. The legend in Denver’s Chicano art movement reflects on 33 years of inspiring others as he plans to retire from teaching this spring.
Carlos Frésquez began his studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver with one goal in mind: to be a good artist. He didn’t care about grades, he said, and he definitely didn’t plan on becoming a teacher. After graduating in 1980, he thought he was done with school forever.
Then, in 1990, the prolific artist whose work has been exhibited and sold around the world found himself back in the classroom, where he would inspire new generations of artists for 33 years. He plans to retire from his role as professor of Art at MSU Denver this spring, but he says he’ll never stop guiding others.
“My favorite thing is to come in and just interact with the students,” he said. “I’m here to guide them, and students say, ‘You’re a sherpa, Carlos; you’re a guide.’ And I guess I am.”
A Denver native, Frésquez remembered going to San Francisco as a kid and seeing walls covered with murals. He knew then he wanted to be an artist. He attended Art classes at MSU Denver in the late 1970s and participated in the Chicano movement.
“I experienced a lot (of racism) in the ’60s and ’70s,” he said. “It’s no fun being spit on because of your ethnicity. I realized we needed to break barriers; we needed to educate people.”
Shortly after he started teaching at MSU Denver, he proposed a mural class to the chair of the Art Department and developed a curriculum. With Frésquez’s guidance, students have painted murals throughout Denver, from Su Teatro to the MSU Denver soccer field. His mural “Night of the Barrio Moon,” painted in 1992, was recently restored.
“We’ve probably done 20 to 30 murals in the city over the years,” he said. “I see murals as walls with tongues because they speak, and they’re really our gift to the community.”
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For Frésquez, murals represent one of the most selfless acts an artist can perform. Students have to “toss their egos aside” and work together to create a work of art that gives back. Teaching the murals class has been one of the most rewarding aspects of his career, he says, and he hopes to come back after he’s retired to do it again.
Looking out of his office window on the Auraria Campus, he sees St. Cajetan’s, where he was baptized, and it’s an emotional moment.
“I have no trouble moving on,” he said. “But I know I will miss it. … This is where I was born, baptized and have been my whole career. As an Art student, a professor, it’s all here.”